Activists Take to Guggenheim Museum to Denounce Israeli Airstrikes

Activists displayed banners depicting Palestinians grieving over bodies of dead children killed by Israeli strikes. (all photos Maya Pontone/Hyperallergic)

The Guggenheim Museum in New York City temporarily closed off its entrance on Saturday afternoon, November 11, after eight artists and cultural workers took to the institution’s iconic spiral ramp to denounce the Israeli military’s ongoing killing of Palestinian children in Gaza. Donning face masks to conceal their identities, the demonstrators displayed eight fabric banners to construct two images of anguished Palestinians grieving over bodies of dead children killed by Israeli bombardments. In the center of the images was a mute volume icon, alluding to recent reports of censorship around Palestinian solidarity.

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Visitors gathered opposite the display to take photos.

The action began at 4:30pm, when activists unraveled the banners from the third floor of the museum. Many visitors responded with applause and whistles while others gathered opposite the display to take photos. A few minutes later, when a staff member attempted to take the banners down, several visitors began booing and asking the museum to keep them up. The staff member left the artworks alone, but a few minutes later, additional museum workers showed up and began removing the banners, drawing further disapproval from the crowd.

“What’s the point of taking it down?” a visitor shouted.

The banners were completely removed a few minutes before 5pm. During the demonstration, a line of visitors formed outside the main entrance as museum staff temporarily stopped accepting new visitors and closed off the ground floor, citing “security protocol.” Police officers arrived at the scene shortly after 5pm. Visitors were not evacuated and no arrests were made. The Guggenheim Museum declined to comment.

The demonstrators, who asked to remain anonymous, told Hyperallergic that the banners depicted paintings by the Spanish contemporary street artist Escif. The artworks are based on photographs taken by Palestinian journalists Mahmoud Bassam and Belal Khaled, who have been documenting the Israeli military’s ongoing escalation against Gaza and the Palestinian occupied territories. Constant airstrikes, a multi-scaled siege, and a ground invasion have so far killed over 10,818 Palestinians living in Gaza since October 7, according to November 9 data from the Gaza Ministry of Health. The bombardment began the same day Hamas militants stormed the southern Israeli checkpoint and killed approximately 1,200 Israelis and took approximately 200 hostages, according to the most recent reports from the Israeli military.

The banners show paintings made by the Spanish street artist Escif based on photographs taken by Palestinian journalists Mahmoud Bassam and Belal Khaled.

The collective’s banner display mimics last year’s Anonymous Artists for Iran demonstration calling attention to the Iranian protest movement for women’s rights. Participants in the Saturday action told Hyperallergic that they chose the Guggenheim as a protest site again because the museum’s current group exhibition, Going Dark: The Contemporary Figure at the Edge of Visibility, focuses on the obscuring or concealing of the human body; and because of a 2016 blog post about censorship of the arts in Israel on the museum’s website.

In a statement provided to Hyperallergic titled “Genocide Must Stop,” the group encouraged the public “to delegitimize governments” that support the killing of Palestinians, citing human rights organizations that have referred to Israel’s bombardment as ethnic cleansing, and demanded that nations immediately push for “a long-overdue ceasefire” and provide humanitarian aid to Palestinians in Gaza. 

Police officers arrived at the scene shortly after 5pm.

Calling out the “institutional repression, street-level harassment, and violence” that have emerged around support for Palestine, the activists referenced an increasing public pressure to “self-censor” and accused the mass media of dispensing “misinformation and extreme censorship for geopolitical gains.” Invoking the at least 40 reporters who have been killed since October 7 — 35 Palestinian, four Israeli, and one Lebanese, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists — the group also stressed the important role of journalists currently “bearing witness” to Israeli violence. 

“We must now exercise our power as workers, tax-payers, and members of society towards the change we want to see,” the activists’ statement reads, calling on the public to join in solidarity with Palestine and “stand against genocide and violence.”

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One of the banners on the floor of the museum after being removed by an employee.
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Museum workers take down the banners.

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